Farm returns to March lambing
Falling income and two wet
lambing seasons have
prompted a switch back to
March lambing for one Yorks
unit. Simon Wragg reports
TWO wet lambing seasons in succession have seen one Yorkshire estate revert to lambing indoors this March and April.
May lambing allowed better use of spring grass and a saving of £10 a ewe in feed for Raby Estates flock of 1800 Mule ewes. "Catching the early market for lambs the following year improved sheep margins further," explains farm manager Peter Boylett.
But with sheep income already down 40% due to depressed lamb prices and two years of wet and cold May weather, Mr Boylett has reverted to lambing indoors during March and April.
"May lambing outside affords you little control. If ewes are housed for lambing in March, and the weather is foul, you can take the decision to keep them in a week or two longer to get lambs off to a good start. In May you have to live with the weather."
At Raby Estate, ewes are turned out on to grass immediately after lambing, with no supplementary feed. Mr Boylett recalls ewes quickly lost their milk in the persistant wet and cold weather.
"Lamb mortality wasnt any higher, but lambs became dependent on forage too early and more were scouring." No lamb creep is fed and they were slow to get away.
To reduce risk of a poor lamb crop – two-thirds of which are sold as stores – the estate has reverted to traditional lambing, despite the extra feed costs.
However, concentrate feed costs can be cut from £10 a ewe under conventional March lambing to £6 a ewe, by splitting housed ewes into tighter lambing groups using raddle marks for guidance, says Mr Boylett.
Concentrate feeding pre-lambing has been cut from eight to six weeks. "Some ewes were up to 17 days behind the first lambers in each group and getting 1kg of 18% cake for no extra benefit."
Savings are compounded when ewes are housed, adds Mr Boylett. "Weve greater control when feeding pens of 50 ewes, whereas outside each field group would have 200-250 ewes – increasing the risk of over-feeding some ewes."
Forage costs are also monitored. Precision chopped silage is fed where buildings allow the use of a forage box at 3kg a ewe a day during housing. "Theres no waste at all, but where 800 ewes are fed baled silage due to building restrictions up to 30% is wasted."
Lambing percentages are also better. "Tupping ewes in Decem-ber for May lambing pulls lamb percentages back to 167%. For traditional lambing we normally expect to see 210-220%."
The extra feed cost of traditional lambing is offset with the combination of higher lamb numbers and ensuring lambs get off to a good start, argues Mr Boylett.
However, he maintains May- born lambs are more likely to avoid a price penalty under the specified risk material rules if finished for the early markets.
Ewes housed for lambing in March can be kept in a week or two longer if the weather turns foul to get lambs off to a good start.
Peter Boylett has switched back to lambing in March rather than May.
WHY MARCH LAMBING
• Higher lambing percentages.
• Ensure lambs get a good start.
• Less weather dependent.